The Supreme Court (SC) in a judgment declared that Hinduism did not denote a religion but a way of life. The SC was profoundly correct. But confusion was created by its ruling. Hinduism being a way of life did not make Hindus less of a religious community. There are in fact a number of Hindu religious sects sharing common beliefs that might be considered part of the Hindu family of religions. There are followers of Sanatan Dharma, of Arya Samaj, Shiv Puja, Ganesh Puja and others. But all these sects believe in the laws of Karma and in the transmigration of souls. That is why they are one religious family. There are other religious communities having similar beliefs, such as Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists, who might be described as cousins of Hindus. Therefore while Hinduism, as the SC stated, reflects culture and a way of life, Hindus represent a distinct religious community. The failure to draw distinction between the two sometimes creates confusion.
Recently there was criticism of Goa Minister Mr. Dipak Dhavalikar of the Maharashtra Gomantak Party for declaring that the Modi government would make India into a fully Hindu state. The BJP Deputy Chief Minister Mr. Francis D’Souza sprang to his defence. He said: “India is a Hindu country. India is Hindustan. All Indians in Hindustan are Hindus including me. I am a Christian Hindu.” A senior BJP leader endorsing this view intensified the criticism. Mr. D’Souza’s remarks ruffled feelings of even his co-religionists in the Catholic community. A leading priest Father Rebello said: “How can he claim himself as a Hindu-Christian? He can call himself Indian-Christian.” Mr. D’Souza was forced to apologize. He said: “I am sorry if I have hurt anyone’s feelings. What I feel I said.”
In fact Mr. D’Souza had the right idea but he used the wrong words to express it. All this controversy arose from semantic confusion. Such confusion is not new. One recalls that decades ago even senior BJP leader Mr. Murli Manohar Joshi invited criticism by falling into the same semantic trap. He described Muslims as Mohammadiya Hindus. He meant what Mr. D’Souza meant. He was referring to the cultural unity of the Indian people. The simple mistake these people made was to describe Hindustanis as Hindus. All residents of Hindustan are not Hindus but Hindustanis.
This writer once addressed a gathering which was attended by senior Sangh Parivar leader the late Giriraj Kishore. This writer urged Sangh Parivar leaders to stop promoting only Hindus and instead speak up for all Hindustanis. He was gratified when shortly thereafter RSS Chief Mr. Mohan Bhagwat in a public statement said that RSS was for all Hindustanis and the people of India and Pakistan had the same DNA. He asked if European nations can cooperate, why cannot India and Pakistan? That goal has not been pursued with requisite zeal. Ending the semantic confusion between Hindus and Hindustanis could hasten the process.